by Margaux Williamson
It’s hard to write about this movie because when you start even your first sentence you think: Why am I writing about this movie when I could just be watching it again?
Toronto’s TIFF Lightbox has been, and will continue to be, screening the animated films of Studio Ghibli until April 13. It’s hard to keep track of all the cultural events going on in the city, even my own, but I have carefully written down the screening times for Hayoa Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” at least two additional times by accident.
I had never seen Miyazaki’s 1988 “My Neighbor Totoro” and somehow doubted that it could rival his later masterpieces (though it does, effortlessly). This past Saturday, I went with four grown-up friends to a matinee. The audience was filled with kids. We sat in the second row, right in the middle. I had just woken up.
“My Neighbor Totoro” is about two little girls who have moved into a new, slightly haunted house in the country. The movie is primarily from their perspective. It is so gentle and beautiful and captivating and exciting. It’s full of good and bad things, and is also very smart and comforting.
The kids in the audience made a lot of cooing and murmuring noises throughout. They sometimes collectively suddenly said something like, “What did the big furry one just say? What did he say?” Or they would all seem to move forward at the same time. It was like being in a gently moving child-ocean. I had no idea kids had such consistency, or that their imaginations could all be harnessed so masterfully by an animator. There, as an audience, they seemed like the most interesting group of people in the world.
Even afterwards, as we all shuffled out of the cinema, kids running around the stairs, or outside on the sidewalk, a couple of them shaking a city tree with all their might (hoping a forest spirit might come out?), they suddenly looked like they really knew what they were doing.
It made me think of the value in partaking of another culture’s art. It’s easy to remember the importance of that when it comes to other countries, but it’s good, too, to remember it applies to groups like age and gender – that there can be entire groups of humans you forget to care about or give credit to, or never thought to in the first place.
It also made me think of the tricky sport of appropriation; how interesting and useful things can happen when trying on another group’s perspective. It kind of made me long to watch a movie that maybe some 8-year-old out there is making from the perspective of an elder whale or something – a live-action feature, perhaps. I’m sure there are at least two kids out there who have already gotten started on that project.
by Carl Wilson
In preparation for my talk this weekend at the EMP Pop Conference, I’ve been sifting through a lot of archival imagery, music and documents from the vicinity of the moment formerly known as “Torontopia.” Here is a ground-zero kind of example – the Hidden Cameras (the band that birthed a thousand bands) at Vazaleen (the event that arguably birthed a new Toronto queer culture) in March of 2001. I am too busy coming up with things to say about it to say anything about it now. What happened? This happened. But what happened?
By Carl Wilson
I’m currently immersed in a project bigger than a breadbox (new version of the 20 Questions classic: “Is it bigger than a blogpost?”) for the first time in a while. While research is a pleasurable way to fill the gaps in one’s knowledge of a given field, what it immediately starts disclosing is how many other fields there are that to you are all gap: All ground, no figure. Existential vertigo is an easy reaction. The alternative is to enjoy your stupidity.
I’m indebted on that count to Jacob Wren, who posted the above in the sociable media earlier this week – a recording of early-20th-century Iranian musician Morteza Mahjoubi playing “Persian-tuned piano.” I thought that I had some inkling of the ways people had monkeywrenched pianos in the history of music – John Cage with his preparations, Conlon Nancarrow with his player-piano rolls, Terry Riley with just intonation, Thelonious Monk with his knuckles and Cecil Taylor with his elbows, etc. But I had never imagined the world of alternate tunings for a piano could be this vast.
Although I have a general interest in Iranian culture, I couldn’t say I know even a full-fledged smidgen about the operations of Persian music, even less than the almost-nothing I know about Arab music and the nearly-approaching-something I know about South Asian music. But I can understand that “well-tempered” pianos can’t play it, with its quartertones and mandatory wavers. So Mahjoubi and others began to find ways to retune and otherwise alter the instrument to approximate Persian modes (the radif system). It seems that many performers since have learned the method and still practice it today.
All this struck me as an intriguing early case of postmodernism, in which the traditional becomes a form of the avant-garde. So I went on a little Google hunt. I could find almost nothing written in English in about an hour’s search. This, compared to the overwhelming avalanche of information one finds on most subjects, was oddly soothing.
But perhaps you prefer to just glance at it and let it renew that Socratic sensation of wisdom-as-knowledge-of-ignorance? For now, me too – back to the task at hand.